If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Ahimsa in the time of madness

[I posted this story some time ago. I am posting it again for my new readers.]

In a sweltering summer afternoon, I was on my way to the Sanchi Stupa from Bhopal, alone.  

The public bus I boarded stopped minutes after leaving the bus stand. The driver killed the engine and got off, along with the conductor. After a while, the conductor reappeared, issued tickets, and vanished again. The next time he showed up, I asked him what time the bus would start. He didn’t seem to understand. So I asked him, in the finest Hindi that I could muster, what the scheduled time for departure was. He gaped at me blankly. I realised there was no schedule. A bus starts when it is full. Period. Salman Rushdie once wrote: The people who use the same word for yesterday and tomorrow cannot be said to have a good grip on time. He had a point.

Emperor Ashoka, one of the greatest rulers of India, embraced Buddhism circa 258 BCE. His dharma was non-violence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for religious teachers, bigheartedness towards friends, humane treatment of servants (there were no slaves in his time), and generosity towards all. He built thousands of stupas, the most distinctive monuments of Buddhist India. The Great Stupa of Sanchi was one of them.

The bus driver obviously believed that the journey was more important than the destination. The bus crawled slowly through deserted plains past sleepy hamlets in simmering heat. Hot air blowing in from the arid fields singed the passengers, most of whom covered their faces with the multipurpose piece of cloth that our village folk often carry.

I got off at an open ground flanked by some tiny eateries and shops. Ignoring the importunate skinny tonga-wallas and their skinnier horses, I started walking towards the Stupa, which was atop a hillock about a kilometre away.

But I underestimated the odds. Even a short walk in that heat could kill if you are going uphill, particularly if you are foolhardy enough not to carry even a hat or a water bottle! When I reached the top, I felt I was going to have a cardiac arrest soon. Fortunately, there were rows of taps dispensing ice-cold drinking water. I drank to my heart’s content and splashed water all over myself. Then I lay down on a concrete bench in the pleasant shade of a tall tree with thick foliage. The relief was immense. I drifted into a happy slumber. …

In the battlefield of Kalinga, Emperor Ashoka, riding an elephant, is surrounded by enemy horsemen. They are aiming their spears at the emperor. But he is smarter. He pulls out a pistol from his holster and starts shooting. As bursts of staccato gunshots rend the air, I get up. The place is as peaceful as ever, but I did hear gunshots! … Suddenly, the penny dropped in the shape of a bel, the common Indian fruit with a hard shell. One such fell nearby and exploded with a thud.

I was in an orchard of bel trees with thousands of ripe fruits ready to fall. Looking up, I saw one poised above my head, gently swaying in the afternoon breeze. Had it fallen while I was asleep, you wouldn’t have read this wonderful story! I ran to the safety of the open sky and then to the Stupa.

The return journey was infinitely more pleasant. The bus started after sundown. A pleasant breeze and a full moon greeted us as we went past immense fields. There was a forest in the background. The vast flat tract of land seemed submerged in tranquillity and peace you would expect in the Buddha’s land. I also saw a small tent far away; two people were cooking something over a fire.

Two days later, I saw this in a local newspaper: “A French couple camping on a field near Sanchi were lynched by villagers. They were … (27) and … (23). A mob had taken them to be dacoits. The young woman was gang-raped before she was killed.” 


  1. Unfortunately, i feel Salman Rushdie is right. Most Indians have no value of time. And Its shocking how the french couple got attacked....India is indeed a very strange place.

  2. I will do no more than provide this link: http://www.littlemag.com/bloodsport/nsmadhavan.html

  3. the twist in the end - very sad.
    wonder why tourists coming to India are not warned about the dangers of certain destinations.


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